Over the past few years, the biometrics industry has experienced significant activity, resulting in myriad new applications as the demand for these products has increased. This trend is still on the rise, going full speed ahead.

By 2007, biometric technology is projected to be a $5 billion-a-year industry. Obviously benefits include reduced costs and increased security.

Customer demand for physical-access controls is giving electrical contractors new opportunities. As a result, biometrics has been clearly recognized as a viable technology, and contractors are being called upon to provide the service.

With the ever-increasing desire for heightened security in the workplace and at home, more and more people are turning to biometrics to further protect their identities. Biometric technology enables secure identification by a person’s unique physical characteristics.

From calls placed on stolen wireless phones to fraudulent credit-card charges, identity theft is clearly on the rise. To help combat it, contractors now have several methods available to install biometric systems for their clients.

Finger biometrics is projected as the most widely used technology, primarily because it is significantly cheaper than face-recognition and iris-scanning devices. While many law-enforcement officials use the technology for fingerprinting suspects, local businesses are enabling security touch pads to “authenticate” a user.

“This is becoming mainstream technology,” said George Myers, Digital Persona’s senior director of product marketing. “It won’t be long before we no longer use passwords. Although law-enforcement officials typically used the technology, our goal is to make it more mainstream with turnkey solutions for network administrators. When people have problems with their passwords, they would have to call a support line. Biometric systems eliminate costs and make systems more secure and easier to use. Soon, we will see fingerprint biometrics being used to protect PDAs, cell phones, door locks, automobiles, etc. It’s coming of age and not so widely used yet, but we will see a dramatic rise in its use over the next 12 to 18 months.”

Myers believes its easy installation and administration is an asset for contractors. System administrators are able to audit use, manage security levels and remove any unauthorized users. “There are numerous opportunities for electrical contractors providing physical access to a location,” he said. “With a simple software program installed on a PC, the core technology can be integrated to other solutions with just a small amount of training required.”

With fingerprint biometrics, a small amount of data is extracted from the finger’s ridge patterns and stored in the system. Similarly, facial images are captured and converted to a usable format.

“With facial-recognition systems, a picture is taken of a person’s face and the accompanying software measures the distance between the nose and chin,” said Michael O’Connor, director of investor relations for Imagis. “It measures the light reflected on the face and produces a topographical map of the face. The digital images are then transferred to a software program. There are numerous opportunities for electrical contractors when working with multiple locations with communication over a local area network. For example, we had a system installed in 30 different law-enforcement offices. Cabling was needed throughout the building to hook up the devices to the local area network. Generally speaking, there isn’t any training required. Any contractor with experience working with local area networks could work on installing these systems.”

O’Connor said that by 2007, biometric technology is projected to be a $5 billion-a-year industry.

“The largest repository of biometric information is in pictures,” he said. “We have a driver’s license and passport to identify us. If we’re arrested, imprisoned or on parole, there are photos taken. Employee files hold photos as well as FBI and security agencies. The technology just enhances security for businesses.”

With fingerprint scanning, the quickest biometric technology, the user places a finger on an optical surface built into a peripheral device, allowing immediate access within one to two seconds. Facial scanning takes three or four seconds, and retina scanning can take up to 12 seconds.

Iris-recognition technology is also rapidly growing. “Currently, exchange of iris information between equipment vendors can only be done using an image of the entire eye,” said Kate McMillan, director of the Secretariat for the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards. “This is not only expensive in storage and bandwidth, but it also introduces additional sources of error. To provide interoperability among vendors, it is essential to define a standard, compact representation of a human iris.”

Biometric technology’s obvious benefits include reduced costs and increased security, but are these systems foolproof? Performance varies according to the sample quality and how the information was gathered. For example, a cold or cut finger, change in facial hair or wearing glasses could alter system accessibility.

“The opportunity for electrical contractors is growing because biometric technology allows people to authenticate access to a physical space,” said Larry Hornak, co-director of the Center for Identification Technology Research. “An individual can purchase a system to protect a laptop while corporations may look to secure physical-access applications like a door or access point that has no power. The systems require electrical feed, so there is a need for assistance when installing the system. Right now, we are seeing companies utilizing PIN access, but through biometric technology, you can really bind an individual’s identity to a specific action.”

More and more companies are expending considerable amounts of time, money and effort to secure corporate systems and avoid security breaches that occur within networks. The need to protect one’s privacy while maintaining the integrity of data transported over a network is paramount today.

Visa International has recently partnered with Vocent’s Voice Secure Password Reset for voice-authentication applications. Their goal is to give consumers round-the-clock access to their accounts from anywhere in the world. Vocent is trying to overcome some technical difficulties with delivering voice-authentication information over the Internet.

Clearly, information technology trends make it easier to deploy server applications on a variety of platforms with a tremendous range of scalability and easy connectivity to existing networks.

SPEED is a freelance writer based in Weymouth, Mass. She can be reached at 617.529.2676 or kkspeed@aol.com.